Hi I'm reporting live from the 2010 Interactive Intelligence Global Partner Conference in San Antonio, which is about to Kick Off shortly.
The company, which makes contact center, business process automation and enterprise unified communications solutions, is expected to announce the next version of its Customer Interaction Center (CIC) platform, the common platform upon which all of its applications are built.
I'll be updating this blog post periodically as we move through the event, which is scheduled to begin at 8:15 a.m. CT with a presentation from Chief Marketing Officer Joe Staples, followed by the unveiling of CIC Version 4.0 introduced by company founder and CEO Don Brown.
According to the program brochure, the next version of CIC "pushes scalability to a new level -- opening up even larger opportunities; introduces a new .NET Supervisor -- improving administration; adds a new .NET Reporting interface and cradle-to-grave audit trail; reaches the goal of moving all media processing onto the Interaction Media server;" and more.
Says this year's conference has more than 400 attendees
This year they are doing something different : Streaming live to colleagues, Not everyone could come so they opened this up to select partners.
For the "social media moguls, they have made tweaks to the program...
They've also created a Twitter feed for the show, where people can post and share comments.
This year's show includes six tracks, 84 sessions.
He discusses Interactive's recent acquisition of debt collections solutions provider Latitude Software -- there will be a special session dedicated to covering Latatiude's solutions and how they will be integrated with CIC.
Other cool sessions include:
--The Successful Multichannel Contact Center
--Communications-as-a-Service Product Overview
--Successfully Selling into the Enterprise with CIC
--Introduction to the Web portal
All presentations this year are being recorded so that its not just the PPT slides.
To "bribe" attendees to submit feedback forms, they offering Apple TV set-top box. Staples admits that during past events "very few forms were turned in." They will do a random drawing of one form to select the winner.
Attendees will attend a special awards reception dinner at Knibbe Ranch this evening -- buses will take attendees off-site. A mechanical bull will be featured at this event.
The event also features a Technology Fair with 17 different vendors exhibiting. This will also feature opportunity for attendees to win "a number of high tech gadgets."
Staples says it takes them about 6 months to put the event together, and they really want attendee feedback, so he encourages everyone to submit comments. This is how they build out next year's conference.
Staples takes poll of attendees: "How long have you been in this industry?"
He says no longer how long you've been in it, "you're still a baby in this industry." Because the industry actually goes back decades and decades. Plays an amusing video presentation:
Contact centers began 4,000 years ago: Archeologists uncover stone cubicles -- messages were carved into stone and then hurled into the city center. Later they used carrier pigeons.
Then came the telegraph. Early telemarketers used the telegraph to sell and market their products. In those early days "everyone wanted to be a telemarketer."
Cold calling started in 1922.
Soon the novelty of the call center started to fade. Customers started to complain and with the invention of sarcasm in 1968, customers began to become verbally abusive.
Hilarious video showing the full "evolution" of the contact center industry.
Dr. Don Brown takes over to introduce CIC 4.0:
Brown says they will be offering a "ton of demos" showing off the new version during the show.
He asks how many attendees used version 1.0 and version 1.2. Only a handful remember these early versions which were very bare bones by comparison to later versions -- no auto attendant, etc.
Today, the system sports all the most advanced call center applications, features and capabilities, including IVR, ACD, outbound, web chat, email routing, quality monitoring, WFM, surveys, screen pop, voicemail in email inbox, fax in email inbox, desktop faxing, desktop video, IM, conferencing, Web conferencing, IP-PBX, security, remote access, presence, directory and more.
"We're really excited about 4.0," Brown says. He points out that it now represents nearly 10 million lines of code, up from 5 million lines of code in 3.0 and 2 million lines of code in 2.0.
Breaking with the past: "We're dropping a lot of the old stuff, we know that's uncomfortable for people sometimes, but sometimes you just have to cut the cord in order to move forward."
The new version will only run on Windows 2008 Server R2.
It will also run on most versions of Windows 7 -- and Interaction Client will continue to run on Windows XP.
The new version will offer:
--Better reliability by getting rid of third party code
--Better scalability to handle the growing number of large customers
--Better reporting and supervision
--Better Web and email capabilities
--Bullet proof the recording, some customers in europe are doing massive amounts of recording and complaining that you can't search fast enough
"The biggest thing we did in version 4.0 is we moved the processing to the application server -- in 4.0 the CIC server doesn't have agent key at all. No more waiting for agent key to initialize upon start up. It did this "because it was thinking it ran on boards." Basically, CIC "becomes a pure application server." It no longer needs to handle the actual call processing.
The system will now be comprised of three main boxes: CIC Server; Media Server (handles processing); Conference Server. However, "those can be virtual machines in one box," Brown says.
He says in upcoming 5.0, conferencing will be integrated in with the media server. He says this new architecture will not only improve reliability, it will also make it easier to monitor and troubleshoot.
Word spotting for speech analytics (Interaction Analyzer) will now be integrated with the main platform. It can handle word-spotting in real time: This is real time speech analytics. This will enable call center managers to intervene on calls as alerts pop up in real time. However he is careful to refer to this as "word-spotting." He says having this capability integrated in will give them a "huge competitive advantage." Best of all this capability is easy to set up and use and requires no additional hardware or software.
They're also adding support for new languages, including Canadian French.
The new version also includes a redesign of Interaction Recorder. This revamped version allows you to set it so that certain segments of calls arenot recorded (such as agent intro script). This way you're not recording redundant content over and over and creating too much recorded data to be archived. A manager can select which parts of the call to record -- including the IVR interaction. Users also have greater control over where the recordings are stored/archived. There's also a new query interface that allows for simpler and faster search of recordings. This is accomplished through in-memory cache. Requires an additional server to cache all of the information about the recordings. This "in-memory" server allows for very fast retrieval of recording data. ("To make our Turkish customers more happy.")
CIC 4.0 also includes improvements to the Web client, including:
Column config in directories; Time in status info, HTML support, Outlook integration, outbound email, threaded discussions, rewritten chat client and more. All of these improvements are made "with the agent in mind," Brown said.
The new version also includes improved reporting and supervision.
(At this point he 's just whipping through the slides...)
Number of times in queue
Number of ties in conference
Overall the platform provides for much more detailed reporting on both the agent side and customer side.
Interaction supervisor and alert server are now rewritten in .NET.
Improved administration means specific managers only get the permissions that they need -- they don't see the information they don't need.
Also improvements in terms of cross-licensing and PCI compliance.
"We think that 4.0 is going to be the best contact center automation suite anywhere out there," Brown says. He says it will serve as the "new standard for architectural elegance and functional range," and expects to win a software architecture award for this new version.
He adds that they've focused on "decreasing cost to implement and support, for both GA and SUs."
Next segment is focused on Interactive's relatively new Communications as a Service (CaaS) offering.
Interactive Intelligence VP of Sales, N. America, Paul Weber presents:
Cloud computing is the buzz, he says. A lot of the time, when clients are looking to go to contract, they wait until the last minute to decide whether to go the hosted vs. on-premises route.
He says the new CaaS offering gives them a chance to compete in the hot cloud computing environment. He discusses how it impacts Interactive's business model, as well as those of its partners: CaaS provides steady and predictable revenue stream through a subscription model. He says with these new cloud-based offerings, a company can launch a contact center "that doesn't look like a contact center" to its customers. The flexibility opens up many new opportunities to change the contact center model -- it actually allows for experimentation in customer service, support and sales and thus gives customers to ability to innovate with new and hybrid models.
A recent survey of CIOs and IT leaders shows that 54 percent are considering moving their communication applications to the cloud within the next 12 months.
He says CaaS grew from 5% of the market in North America to 25% this year alone.
Capex is tight and IT deadlines are delayed due to lack of resources. This is what is driving this market.
CEO's want to know how cloud applications help them reduce headcount or at least avoid having to hire more people.
By-pass corporate standards and IT back-logs.
Mgt. lacks confidence in thier ability to manage and maintain their systems.
Local control eases fears associated with cloud-based contact center. Security, carrier relationship and fear of a bad marriage are now resolved.
He says CaaS gives ININ customers a "true competitive advantage."
It helps them to eliminate the competition.
Premise-based competition is getting desperate. They're giving their solutions away wirth the hope of recouping the loss later on.
Cisco, for example, "hides the cc in future phases to avoid weakness." They're pushing it back in phases.
"You have a choice to have... an all-in-one software-based solution," with CIC 4.0 he says.
He says other vendors can't match ININ's "purpose built" software which has been 15 years in development.
He says in his view ININ has 1-4 years to establish itself as a leader in this space.
Local control helps get them past the CaaS "gatekeepers."
They can quickly convert on-premise to CaaS and vice versa because they're really both the same version.
"The competition is not going to sit still -- we know we need to hit this thing quick," Weber says.
"We know we have a truly strategic story for the business," he says, explaining that the beauty of thier system is that customers can turn apps "on" and "off" as needed -- they can take an a la cart approach to deployment and it's fast and simple.
Pipelines are at an all time high -- although some customers are slow to sign. But they're confident they will get the business for their CaaS offering. Some are putting it off due to a lack of IT resources, he says.
He says the cloud is a new market for ININ, but he says it is "our sweet spot," in terms of its existing client base.
PSO revenue, he says, is "strong and predictable."
Best of all for ININ's partners, "the support burden is minimal."
Resellers will have to provide Level 1 support for these new customers, however this can easily be outourced, he says.
Inclusion of departmental solutions are yielding six digit contracts, he tells the group of resellers and technology partners.
He says they're beating other cloud providers in terms of implementation time, including longtime SaaS players such as CosmoCom. He speaks of one implementation that took only 200 hours.
He says a 250 seat CaaS deal can net $280,000 in margin over initital five year contract. That's $300,000 in PSO and monthly MAC revenue.
A premises deal, on other hand, nets $490,000 ($147,0000) with comparable PSO, plus maintenance. However the reseller doesn't get that money up-front.
ININ pays on the terms of the contract. The benefits are lower support burden, no cost over-runs, more net new customers.
He says major corporations are considering cloud-based options and at this point in the game, small companies with limited needs are less likely to buy in. Trying to sell on premises to small companies is "a waste of time" at this point, he says.
This new CaaS model drives recurring revenue with an opportunity to sell on-prem systems after the customer has a chance to try out the software.
This gives resellers the opportunity to design their businesses "for speed" and get more new customers.
Overall this gives interactive partners more flexibility to sell either a CaaS or on-prem solution, based on each prospect's unique needs.
Joe Staples returns to the stage and asks how many in the audience are in sales. About half the audience raises their hands. He asks what the greatest challenge is in terms of selling the brand: One sales guy says many prospects respond by asking "Interactive who?" indicating that the brand name still is not that well-known.
So how is Interactive building its brand?
Staples provides a "staged dialog" with a "faux" customer wherein the "prospect" is looking for a new communications platform to streamline his business operations. Staples shows how Interactive comes up on Google search on page one for numerous terms including "call center software" and "VoIP communications solutions." He also points out how the company was recently positioned in the Visionaries' Quadrant in Gartner's Magic Quadrant report for contact center software providers.
Staples points out that there more than 60 representatives from various analyst firms at the event -- so the firm is well known by, and continuously working with, the analyst community.
The "sales pitch" continues -- this is all about how strong Interactive's brand presence is -- it's mostly focused on Interactive's strong presence on the Web, at trade shows, etc. Staples says Interactive is now participating in more than 40 different trade shows.
This year Interactive had more than 3,300 press articles published to the Web about its offerings (including many on TMCnet).
Time to get real with all of this: There is a lot of activity around building our brand -- they don't run TV ads on prime time TV, nor do they do high profile print campaigns, "but we are gaining presence with that prime time buyer." He says it's time to get more of this information out there through their partner community.
Any ideas that partners have for building brand exposure are welcomed, Staples said.
Alan Percy, AudioCodes, presents. Provides overview of AudioCodes product suite.
UC with TDM Carriers: UC experience is limited to within the enterprise.
SIP Trunking facilitates UC outside of the enterprise -- provides opportunity to push UC infrastructure out to customers, partners. New channels of communication can be integrated on a common shared platform. This also provides for improved communication and collaboration with partners/affiliates. Also allows for much easier sharing of communications applications -- both inside and outside of the enterprise.
The future of UC therefore is federation of networks. Through peering, organizations can bypass service providers and cut communications costs.
The challenge is that the SBCs must now communicate or federate securely with all these different organizations. And there are many challenges here, not the least of which is interoperability and lack of standardization.
He provides a case study: Triton.
They use CIC platform -- however they needed to expand. they were using just two AudioCodes SBCs. But their toll charges remained high.
They need to expand and add trunk lines.
They added two Mediant 1000 SBCs to the infrastructure to connect with their two service providers. The enterprise network doesn "see an SBC, it just sees a gateway," which makes it simpler to integrate and deploy new services.
They load balance using two SBCs per service provider -- this has significantly increased capacity and scalability.
They have a new campaign wherein if a partner brings them a good case study which can be used by marketing, the person who brings it to them will win a new Apple iPad.
Tim Sanders, former Chief Solutions Officer at Yahoo and author, presents on "Harnessing Great Relationships:"
Speaks of "emotional talent."
When he was at Yahoo they had what was "The Closing Team" -- they were experts at that is called "emotional engagement."
He says resellers and partners need to be "emotionally smart." Professionals need to engage in a more intelligent, yet emotional way. Reading books is the key to changing the way you think, the way you engage with people.
C-level execs only read 5-6 book s a year: He provides a list of 6 book s that everyone in the room would benefit from reading:
Doing Both (Cisco book)
Customer Capitalism (out of print but avilable on eBay)
"If you read a good book about your industry it will drastically improve your knowledge base" and allow you to connect with customers on a more emotional level, he says.
"Books make great swag -- if you want give something great to a client, give them a book that will change their life -- their way of doing things."
He predicts that premises based solutions will soon come to be viewed as very "un-green" and that companies will witness increasing criticism if they deploy on-premises systems. In addition the government will start ramping up its incentives to get companies to go "green" through deployment of cloud-based solutions. Not only will the government start offering incentives, it may even implement punitive measures for companies that only want to stick with on-premises systems.
He says a recent study reveals that sales people who are emotionally connected to the customer get 40 percent more -- mainly because they get "inside information" that helps them drive more sales.
Sales people also need to "Stop taking notes so often and start reading faces," he says. He says recent research shows that all human emotion breaks down into seven basic categories.
He shows how to detect true emotion based on the recent research -- shows seven photos of people's faces and reveals how certain facial expressions reveal whether someone is truly happy or angry based on their facial features. He says that this new research and new way of detecting true emotion has statistical accuracy.
"Feelings are facts," he says, therefore it is critical to pay attention to them -- they are more important than the delivery of the information.
He says it isn't a bad thing to say "I'm sorry" because it allows the individual to quickly move on...
By developing a sincere interest in your prospects, you'll get them to be more interested in you within two months than they'll be interested in you within a year.
He shows an approach to connecting emotionally with prospects he calls "The 5x5 Exercise with Tim Sanders." One the left is a list of five your own personal passions. On the right is a list of your most frequent work contacts.
He says that when the economy goes south, more suits start showing up at meetings, as they are looking for ways to hold down costs and retain customers. The problem is that they tend to slow down the sales process, mainly because they don't understand the process, nor do they respond with the same sense of urgency.
He talks about the importance email etiquette.
1. Stomp out "Reply to All" and "show your age" -- the more emails you send, "the less you're in" -- in other words, once you start getting to many emails, that's when you start losing the big picture.
2. Break the email thread with a phone call. The way people react on the phone is often the opposite of how they react via email.
3. Keep is short, light, and purely transactional. Emails that are too long typically are not read. Don't use email to convey emotions... we hide behind our laptops and send messages to people that we're afraid to say to their face.
Bottom line: Email is NOT the way to connect emotionally to clients and prospects.